BreakingModern — Predicting the outcome of presidential primaries and general elections is a fool’s errand at one month before the election. This far out, nearly two years ahead of time, it’s beyond impossible.
Then again, we already know enough about the current likely crop of Democratic and Republican contenders to see the way that the race is likely to shake out. Here’s my U.S. presidential campaign preview below, beginning with the Dems.
Hillary Rodham Clinton (D): Hers to lose
On the Democratic side, the nomination is Hillary Clinton’s to lose. She has already amassed a formidable campaign war chest, assembled experienced staffers from within the party establishment and successfully created a sense of inevitability that has kept other potential rivals at bay. At this stage, only two occurrences could stymie her “rumbling tank” of a campaign: a scandal, or a seismic shift in the political landscape created by an earth-shattering news event, like 9/11 or a huge stock market crash.
I wouldn’t bet on a scandal. Everything the media can find out about Clinton it has already learned over the course of a quarter-century in the national political spotlight. Even if the big news story threatens to change everything, who could take advantage of it at this late date?
VP Joe Biden (D) is a long, long, long, long shot.
What about Joe Biden? He keeps making noise about maybe possibly running, but the National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar makes the case why that won’t happen. So I’ll just quote him here. “The veep,” Josh writes, “has done absolutely nothing to staff up for a prospective campaign—a necessity against a well-prepared, well-funded Clinton operation. At 72, he’d be the oldest future president in history. As vice president, he brings all the baggage that comes with serving under a polarizing president but carries none of the same excitement from the base. His approval numbers are weaker than Obama’s, and in his two past runs for president, he’s fallen far short of expectations. He trails Clinton by nearly 60 points—66 percent to 8 percent—in the latest CNN/ORC survey, conducted last month. A Biden campaign would be a bigger long shot than even Mitt Romney running a third time.”
Don’t bet on this this horse.
Liberal Elizabeth Warren (D): Lacking supporters with cash
Liberal Democrats who believe Clinton is too far to the right and have never forgiven her for her positions on free trade agreements and voting in favor of the invasion of Iraq in 2003 keep saying they want Massachusetts senator and consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren. Pictured at left, she would be challenging the former first lady from the Left. But Warren has repeatedly said she isn’t running, her fans don’t have much money, and her actions – well, more like her inaction in not showing up in key primary states like Iowa – support her repeated denials. Count her out. Way out.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (D): The other great liberal hope
The other great liberal hope is Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, a self-identified “socialist” (though not a member of an organized socialist American party, and who caucuses with the Democrats and usually votes with them). Unlike Warren, he actually is spending a lot of time in Iowa and has said that he is seriously considering a 2016 primary run. Money is a serious problem for the “class-based campaign” Sanders says he’s interested in pursuing: He only has $7 million in the bank, and the price for running for president of the United States these days can easily exceed $1 billion.
If Sanders runs, it will be in the tradition of the hopeless liberal challenger to the establishment candidate: He’s less of a Ted Kennedy, who actually gave incumbent resident Jimmy Carter a run for his money in the 1980 Democratic primaries, and more like George McGovern’s principled 1984 challenge to former vice president Walter Mondale. Sanders wouldn’t be running to win, but he’d run in order to articulate the traditional liberalism largely abandoned by the Democratic party during the 1990s Clinton years.
Nice symbolism, but Hillary still gets to give the big speech in New York, Philadelphia or Columbus, Ohio.
Now, the Republican side of things
Jeb Bush: His last name will haunt him
With the decision of 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney to bow out of the 2016 sweepstakes, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush is the Republican Party establishment’s top choice. But he is far from a shoe-in.
Both party insiders and mainstream political pundits think Bush’s relatively lax views on illegal immigration, though appealing to the Latinos that Republicans need to win in the future and more likely need to succeed in the general election in November, would make it difficult for him to get enough votes from the right-wing conservatives who dominate the primary process to secure the nomination. Also, he’s a bit late to the races. Although he is already conducting major fundraisers, and is connected to wealthy political patrons through his father and brother, both former presidents, it’s hard to put together that billion bucks in the allotted time.
Bush’s biggest impediment, of course, is also his greatest asset: his surname. Do Americans want to elect a third President Bush in 30 years — especially when neither the first or the second one are held in particularly high regard? From John Quincy Adams to Franklin Delano Roosevelt to Robert F. Kennedy, we know Americans are not allergic to political dynasties – and Hillary Clinton is about to prove that again – but Bush is a toxic name for both the aggressive post-9/11 foreign policy and the dismal handling of the banking crisis that led to the 2008 global economic meltdown.
Rand Paul (R): The Republican hopeful to watch
I think Kentucky Senator Rand Paul is the Republican hopeful to watch. Although Paul had less than a stellar week this week. I would say unfairly, though, since members of the media radically and intentionally spun his nuanced remarks about whether parents ought to have the right to choose to vaccinate their children against diseases like measles. But hey, that’s politics, he’d better get used to it – he has a lot going for him at this particular point in time.
For one thing, he’s a lot less scary to Democrats than many of his fellow Republicans. Particularly on civil liberties and foreign policy, Paul comes off as more liberal than many so-called mainstream Democrats, like Hillary Clinton. His anti-interventionist views, opposition to unfettered spying on Americans by the NSA, skepticism about the Obama administration’s drone wars in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia, and his critiques of torture and indefinite detention at Guantánamo are all examples of this. Were Paul to face off against Clinton in a general election, many liberals might not be able to stomach voting for him, but enough of them might sit home on election day to hand him the presidency.
Within the Republican Party there is also a sense that it’s time to let the libertarian wing takeover from the current dominant corporate and neoconservative strains within the party. Dating at least back to Barry Goldwater, the Republican Party has always relied on its libertarians, but hasn’t rewarded them with a presidential nomination in half a century. Given the disastrous George W. Bush administration, which many conservatives criticized for having run up the deficit and started wars that didn’t put America first, and the growing class divide that even Jeb Bush alluded to, many Republicans may decide to turn to Paul by default – simply for not being a Mitt Romney-type corporatist viewed as out of touch with the country, or another crazy Dick Cheney trying to take over the Muslim world.
One thing’s for sure: with Rand Paul as the nominee, there would be no shortage of impassioned young volunteers working the pavement in 2016.
Chris Christie (R): Just too much working against him
Christie has so many things working against him. There’s ongoing ethics investigations; the lingering hangover of Bridgegate, in which his officials were charged with shutting down the George Washington Bridge to get even with a local politician who didn’t kowtow to him; his – to be charitable – less-than-telegenic physicality; and the fact that he is from New Jersey, which isn’t an important state electorally. People really shouldn’t be spending a lot of time talking about him.
Moreover, this week’s New York Times story pretty much drives a stake through the governor’s core narrative – that he’s a plainspoken, average Joe just like you and me. Turns out that he routinely stays at five-star hotels and flies in private jets with a huge entourage, like a gangster rapper, and lets the taxpayers or, even worse, politically connected lobbyists with matters pending before his office, pick up the tab.
Maybe people shouldn’t care about these things, but I think they do and they will. In politics, you don’t have to be genuine, but if you’re a hypocrite, you can’t let people find out.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R): Probably really running for vice president
Conservative intellectuals – yes, there is such a thing – argue that Florida Senator Marco Rubio is the next big candidate of big ideas, not to mention a natural for attracting Hispanic votes. But Rubio has an unfortunate tendency to try to weasel out of answering direct questions, even when they aren’t really dangerous.
I suspect that is because Rubio, as you might expect based on his age, is really running for vice president. Sure, maybe he’d like to be president someday, but he knows that 2016 isn’t that year. It’s pretty easy to imagine him paired up with pretty much any other top Republican, with the exception of fellow Floridian Jeb Bush.
Former Arkansas governor and FoxNews personality Mike Huckabee is another much talked about candidate whom I don’t take too seriously. He’s just beginning to test the water now. Really? In early 2015? For a campaign that begins late this summer? I say he’s not really running.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker: Not gunning for the top spot
Finally, there’s two other governors, both from the Midwest: John Kasich of Ohio and Scott Walker of Wisconsin.
My gut tells me that both men are serious about running, but are really in it for the vice presidency. Ohio in particular is a key battleground state, but Wisconsin is important too, and either governor would serve as a nice counterbalance to a presidential standard bearer who is a senator, like Rand Paul. Furthermore, both of them have reputations as political attack dogs, traditionally the role of a running mate.
Walker has antagonized public-sector workers and trade unions in general, and has just proposed a budget that would gut the state’s education system. Kasich, on the other hand, did exactly the opposite, seeking to increase funding for his state’s school systems. Advantage: Kasich. Whether he runs or not, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him wind up as the 2016 vice presidential nominee.
So what happens in the general election?
If I had to put my money on it now, and I’m really happy that I don’t have to, I‘d bet that the Republican nominee will be Rand Paul or Jeb Bush.
In a Paul versus Clinton campaign, I see it as Paul’s to lose. If he doesn’t screw up with some kind of Romney-style boneheaded 47 percent remark, and manages to overcome his greatest weakness – the perception that he doesn’t believe that government has a role in helping people – and doesn’t get embroiled in some sort of scandal, he will attract or neutralize enough left-of-center Democrats to beat Clinton, who at this point isn’t exciting to anyone other than older women hoping to see one of their own finally get into the White House.
A Bush versus Clinton match would be much harder to call. Both are highly professional, self-disciplined and somewhat likable on the campaign trail. But it’s hard to imagine anyone getting excited about either one. The prediction I would make about that campaign is that the biggest winner of all would be apathy.
That’s it for now. Excited yet?
Cover image: “TR Inaugurationsketch” by Artist for Nashville, Tennessee News on October 13, 1901 – Intermediate Source URL is http://www.cr.nps.gov/nr/twhp/wwwlps/lessons/77troosevelt/77visual2.htm. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.